Immortal Longings by Chloe Gong (Flesh and False Gods #1)

Every year, thousands in the kingdom of Talin will flock to its capital twin cities, San-Er, where the palace hosts a set of games. For those confident enough in their ability to jump between bodies, competitors across San-Er fight to the death to win unimaginable riches.

Princess Calla Tuoleimi lurks in hiding. Five years ago, a massacre killed her parents and left the palace of Er empty…and she was the one who did it. Before King Kasa’s forces in San can catch her, she plans to finish the job and bring down the monarchy. Her reclusive uncle always greets the victor of the games, so if she wins, she gets her opportunity at last to kill him.

Enter Anton Makusa, an exiled aristocrat. His childhood love has lain in a coma since they were both ousted from the palace, and he’s deep in debt trying to keep her alive. Thankfully, he’s one of the best jumpers in the kingdom, flitting from body to body at will. His last chance at saving her is entering the games and winning.

Calla finds both an unexpected alliance with Anton and help from King Kasa’s adopted son, August, who wants to mend Talin’s ills. But the three of them have very different goals, even as Calla and Anton’s partnership spirals into something all-consuming. Before the games close, Calla must decide what she’s playing for—her lover or her kingdom. 

YEAR: 2023
LENGTH: 369 pages
AGE: Adult
GENRE: Fantasy

Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.

IMMORTAL LONGINGS builds a claustrophobic sense of place, with densely packed buildings and strangers everywhere. The mechanics of jumping are used excellently, and explained enough to allow for a pretty cool late-book reveal. It plays with the tension between this culture of literally disposable bodies and Calla's refusal to jump. Rather than one's physical form, Qi (a person's essence) is the durable part of who they are, and it's possible to jump one's Qi into another body, taking it over either temporarily or permanently. Some people's birth bodies are lost, and they continually jump between bodies, others jump temporarily and then return to their own body. Many citizens can't jump at all, and run the risk of having their bodies used by jumpers at random. I like the way the jumping is explained and used, and if I keep reading the series it will be to see how jumping is used once the games are over. 

One of the things with showing relationship chemistry in a narrative on the basis of past events between characters is that it can leave some readers feeling like the characters aren't grounded enough or their relationships don't fully make sense. I, in particular, know that I have trouble with this as a reader. I don't have an imagination filling in the gaps and wondering what tension could have led to this moment. I read how it plays out in the book right now and I either have enough detail or it just falls flat for me. This didn't work as well for me as the similarly antagonistic/romantic relationship between Juliette and Roma in THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS because once IMMORTAL LONGINGS BEGINS, Anton and Calla don't really do much to harm each other's aims until very late in the book. They're set up so that at some point they will no longer both be able to get what they want, but since that point is when dozens of other people have been eliminated it can be far away for a long time. When combined with the reveal at the very end, it means I finished the book a bit confused and not sure whether it worked well for me personally. It leans even more into this narrative style which the Secret Shanghai books also have, but the way it's refined here took it out of my comfort zone. 

I've seen a lot of comparisons between Immortal Longings and The Hunger Games. This is both slightly true and mostly unhelpful as a generalization, as what they have in common are either superficial genre features or not unique to The Hunger Games. I understand why the comparison occurs to people so I'd like to take it seriously, that will be covered at length in an upcoming essay.

If you like books where things are left more mysterious and many people have hidden plans, you'll probably like this. It wasn't quite my style, I prefer the Secret Shanghai books.

Graphic/Explicit CW for blood, violence, injury detail, murder, death.

Moderate CW for classism, grief, child death, parental death, death.

Minor CW for sexual content, drug use, terminal illness.

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